This is true story. The names of some of those involved have been changed for obvious reasons.
This all began when Antonio Valenzuela, a client of mine arrived in Beijing a few days before the scheduled tour started. He asked if I knew any pretty Chinese women who might want to go on a date with him. I’m a simple tour guide, but I get all kinds of requests from clients!
When Antonio called I was sitting in Starbucks inside the Oriental Plaza Mall, on the basement level at Wangfujing Walking Street in Central Beijing, just two long blocks from Tiananmen Square. Antonio at that time was the Environmental Ambassador for Ecuador. I thought he would be an interesting man for some Chinese woman to meet. Hesitating and thinking before committing, then when the silence on the phone had gone on a bit too long, I finally told him, “Sure Antonio I can fix you up. I’ll get something on for tonight and call you back”
It was a simple matter for me to walk up to the street level of Oriental Plaza. Then, mocha drink in hand, I strolled slowly north on Wangfujing Walking Street. Purposely looking lost I stared into shop window, gazed up at the large Times Square – like TV screens on the side of buildings and in general copied the antics of a male tourist alone and slightly bored in Beijing. It took only a few minutes of this nonsense before three Chinese girls approached me together. One girl asked “sir, are you busy now?” Then quickly before I could reply she explained “We are students from Beijing Language University and come here to practice speaking English”.
I told them I had a friend who would be glad to meet and talk English with them, if they wanted to wait a few minutes while he took a taxi from his hotel. They said “sure, why not” and we walked to the nearby McDonald’s to wait for Antonio to arrive.
While we waited, I talked to them. Testing the water to see their attitude, I said, “my friend Antonio wants to have a date with a pretty Chinese girl. But he doesn’t want to go sit in a tea shop and pay $100 for a pot of tea at some tourist scam joint”. This brought giggles of embarrassment and one girl shyly hid her face behind raised palms, because of course that is the precise scam these nice college girls operate to get spending money.
One girl whose dark eyes made my heart race answered, “We are modern women, don’t like tea”. It was still early in April. She was wearing a pair of black boots, brightly patterned knee socks that came to mid thigh and a short wool Burberry skirt that ended 6 inches short of the top of her stockings and probably cost as much as many Chinese men earn in a month. My eyes were drawn to her thighs where goose bumps dotted her porcelain skin.
Let me explain about Wangfujing Street and the college students who hang out there. Frequently these young women take some unsuspecting horny male tourist, who they chat up on the walking street, to a special out of the way tea shop that is located inside one of the big mall stores that line both sides of the kilometer long Wangfujing Walking Street. Because the tea shop is inside an expensive and busy shopping mall the men feel safe going there with the girls they have just met. These naïve men actually think a 20 year old Chinese girl that they just met wants nothing more than to talk to them.
The prices in this tea shop are incredibly high. The menu is in Mandarin. The girls point to some things, but are sly about pulling the menu back before the unsuspecting mark can see the printed price. Once a pot of tea is brought to the table, they talk for a few minutes. Then the girls will mention, “Bob, we’re hungry would you order a fruit plate? By now, the girls have cast their spell and Bob thinks he has made a conquest. Playing the big shot, who is going to score with this foreign chick, Bob readily agrees to their seemingly innocent request.
After the girls have run a tab up to $100 or $200 U.S. dollars, one of the them will glance at her watch and demurely point to it. “Oh, look” she might say “it is late, class will start soon.”
The bill is brought to the table then and the tourist who was thinking sex instead of scam is presented with a bill, that in clearly written English sends a shock through him as he ineptly tries to figure out just how many dollars or euros the bill is. He stares at the total of 1,200 Yuen, and finally asks the girls “what is this amount in dollars? This cannot be right!”
The girls then speak in Chinese to the waiter and tell Bob “1,200 yuen, the waiter says that will be $180 in U.S. dollars.
Bob, the horny tourist might at first get angry and shout he will not pay that. If he refuses to pay, the girls tell him the manager will call the police and he will then be taken to the police station. The manager appears about this time. He speaks strongly accented English and will angrily point to the menu to show the now nervous and angry Bob each item on the menu and the price that is clearly marked there. Eventually Bob will pay and leave. He will be a little bit wiser and a whole lot poorer.
I told the three girls that if they wanted to hang out for a couple hours, let Antonio buy them a nice lunch and see if one of them liked him enough to go out with him on a real date, then we would go have a nice lunch and just talk. One girl bailed out. She was only at Wangfujing to troll for foreign men to sucker into sitting at the tea shop with her. The other two girls stayed with me and waited for Antonio.
When he arrived, I introduced Antonio (don’t call me Tony) to my new “friends” and told him that I would stay and have lunch with the three of them, but that then I had to leave. I asked Antonio if he was okay with this arrangement and he said yes. I asked if he was okay buying lunch for the four of us and he agreed to that also.
When he arrived, I introduced Antonio (don’t call me Tony) to my new “friends”. Then I got to the point. “Antonio, if you want to buy lunch for the four of us, we can sit and talk and try to get you hooked up for tonight”. He smiled and agreed.
I know a small, smoky locals style restaurant just off Wangfujing that serves terrific food and is always crowded with local people, not tourists. After getting seated, I started to order, but Antonio interrupted me. “Why don’t you let the girls order” he said. I hesitated, because I knew that might be a mistake, but I didn’t really care too much because he was paying.
I handed the menu to the girls. “Order lunch for us, but please don’t order anything made with the feet, heads or stomachs of animals” They started up a long conversation with the waitress. Pointing, then discussing their choice. I could tell they were ordering enough food for 10 people, but Antonio was running this show and paying the tab, so I just sat and enjoyed the view across the table.
Lunch dragged on for two hours as dish after dish came out of the kitchen. The girls were pleasant to talk to and had fairly good English skills so it was a nice way to spend a lazy Beijing afternoon. Soon nobody was eating, just tasting the food. Eventually the waitress had piled 12 different dishes on the table. Dumplings, fish, pork, and some things that really don’t have English names. Antonio’s eyes bulged when he saw the total on the bill. But he paid up and we stood to leave.
That’s when Antonio said “Keith something has come up and I must return to the hotel”. “Wait” I replied, “what about making plans for your date?” “I cannot do that now” he said. Then he just left me and the two girls standing there. I told them thanks for a nice lunch and we parted ways. I headed for the subway and they walked back to Wangfujing Street, to sell a lesson in Chinese and a pot of $100 tea, to some unsuspecting foreigner.
Later I saw Antonio at the hotel and asked him what happened, why had he left so abruptly? “
“Jeez,” I said. “Two pretty, smart and very friendly Chinese girls to choose from and you just walked away.” His face twisted into a grimace of distaste as I finished talking. So I asked, “I wasted my morning helping you, what’s the problem?”
Antonio looked at me as serious as could be, and said “those girls had crooked teeth. I could never date a girl with crooked teeth”. I laughed, thinking he was joking with me. Those girls were both pretty women and the one in particular was gorgeous. He said “It’s not funny, Keeeees. Their teeth were crooked”.
Then he had the nerve to ask me if I knew any other Chinese girls. “Maybe you know some other women who have nice teeth” he said. Of course I did. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to put any of my friends together with this strange person.
We were standing in the middle of the hotel lobby at the time. I don’t know why, but finally I decided that my friend Helen is smart, sexy and plenty able to handle herself. Helen is from Inner Mongolia originally, but was able to get into and then graduate from the Beijing Foreign Language University with a degree in English. She had left the plains of Mongolia far behind her. Now she worked as a freelance translator for foreign companies while searching for a rich husband.
I called Helen and explained that this guy was a little bit strange, but rich and a diplomat and not married. I told her how lunch had ended. She thought about it and decided it would be worth the effort. I suggested that we meet at the entrance to Oriental Plaza on Wangfujing Street at 7:00 PM. I would sit and have a drink at Starbucks with the two of them. If Helen felt comfortable going out on a date with this guy, I would leave them.
When she arrived at Starbucks, Helen was dressed to kill. 5” spike heels, a very short ruffled hem skirt and nice shiny earrings. Her teeth were gleaming white and straight enough she could model for some dental advertisement. Helen and Antonio seemed to get along okay, so I left.
Later, back in my room at the hotel, reading a book and listening to music from my laptop my cell phone rang. It was 10:30 PM. The caller was Helen. “KEEEEth” she yelled, “that man is a creep”. Then she hung up on me. I sat on the edge of the bed for a couple minutes wondering what that was all about, then laid back down to sleep and dream about a distant beach, with soft white sand and coconut palms swaying in the wind.
The next morning I ran into Antonio as I left the hotel on my way to Starbucks. He asked if he could come along. Once we were settled in at Starbucks, Antonio told me his tale of the happenings from the night before.
Antonio is a professional photographer, as well as a low level diplomat. He explained that he decided to take night photos of Wangfujing Street. He didn’t think Helen would mind waiting and maybe translating for him, if he needed a translator. As we sat at Starbucks earlier, he had promised to take her to a nice dinner at Houhai Lake and maybe some drinks and dancing afterwards. He had said nothing about a marathon photo taking session at night, in the freezing cold night air.
Antonio told his side of this tale to me as we sat in the basement level of Starbuck’s. I watched the thousands of workers rushing from the subway, past Starbuck’s and then up to the street level where they would scatter to a hundred different stores and cafes. Antonio said that after taking a few photos on Wangfujing Street, Helen suggested they get a drink at the Beijing Bar. This is a tiny bar, one half block off Wangfujing Street and dedicated to Street Scamming Girls who bring guys in there to buy $100 bottles of Great Wall Wine just like some girls do with the $100 pots of tea. (You can buy that wine for $5 - $10 US anywhere in Beijing)
Antonio said, “We ordered some drinks and talked for a few minutes. Then Helen ordered a bottle of wine, we talked some more. Then we ordered two more cocktails. After they had been there about an hour, Helen asked me to get another bottle of wine.” Antonio’s face was getting a bit red as he talked to me and his Spanish accent became more pronounced. He said, “I asked for the menu and saw that damned wine was $100 a bottle. I asked Helen why she bought that expensive wine. She would not answer me. That bitch just walked out and left me there!”
By then, I was confused about what happened and a little nervous because this guy was my client and I would be with him for the next 11 days. As I sat there sipping at my coffee, he asked me why I had set him up with a woman who would rob him that way. I didn’t really have an answer. “Antonio, look I wasn’t there and I’ve never been to the Beijing Bar, so I don’t know why this happened. I’m sorry you feel like you were ripped off.” I certainly wasn’t going to accept responsibility for his not reading the wine list or failing to ask the price of a martini. And I knew Helen would never have robbed somebody I introduced her to, at least not without a very good reason.
Now on the other hand, I was pissed off at Helen when I heard this story and just couldn’t understand why she did that. An hour later after Antonio and I had parted ways at the subway entrance, Helen called. She gave me a different view of the previous evening’s events.
It seems Antonio didn’t really want a date. He wanted a translator. At 8:00 PM they left Starbucks and he set up his camera and tripod out on Wangfujing Walking Street and began framing and shooting night photos. Helen stood there and waited patiently for the first 30 minutes. Then asked if they were going to dinner soon. Antonio said he needed a few more photos.
30 minutes later, Helen told me that her feet were bothering her from standing in one place on the cold concrete in those high spiked shoes. She was cold, because it was April in Beijing and the temperature was 35 degrees Fahrenheit. When 9:30 passed, Helen insisted that they walk up the street, where she told Antonio he would find a beautiful church that was nice to photograph at night.
The church is on the same intersection as the Beijing Bar. Antonio ran around the plaza by the church for a while taking photos like a crazy man and completely ignoring Helen. By now, Helen was very cold, hungry, angry and feeling completely ignored. She stomped her feet a couple times, pouted at Antonio and told him he had to take her into the Beijing Bar to get warmed up. Reluctantly he agreed to end his photo session and they entered the bar where Helen proceeded to order a vodka collins and Antonio ordered a martini.
Helen asked Antonio where they would go to dinner. He told her that this was his last opportunity to take night photos of Beijing and he didn’t think he had time to take her to dinner. This really made Helen angry. She felt used and taken advantage of. So speaking in Mandarin to the waiter she arranged to get a commission from the Beijing Bar for whatever Antonio spent. When the manager had agreed to the commission, Helen then ordered the first bottle of Great Wall wine at $100 from the special menu. Five minutes later, since Antonio wasn’t buying her dinner either, she ordered the $75 plate of fruit.
What’s the moral of this story? Maybe there really isn’t one, but I have a couple thoughts:
1. Don’t ever set up a blind date between a South American diplomat and someone whose friendship you value. It is sure to backfire.
2. Don’t treat a pretty Chinese woman badly, if you don’t want to pay the price. Antonio spent $300 trying to get a date with a Chinese girl!
3. Helen remains a good friend who would never rob a friend of mine. . . unless he left her standing in the cold for a couple hours.
4. Antonio sent me an invitation to a book publishing party in his homeland in South America. This party was for the publication of an oversized glossy coffee table book of China images that came out about one year after his misadventure with Helen.
I did not attend the party. There were no photos of Helen in that book.
Antonio shall remain forever faceless and nameless in this tale.
Wangfujing Walking Street remains the easiest place in Beijing for a single man to meet a pretty Chinese woman. Just don’t drink the tea! Instead take your new acquaintance to KFC, sit on the second floor by the window. There you can watch other guys get hooked into that $100 tea party.
The Beijing Bar is still there. If a pretty Chinese girl asks you to buy her a drink at the Beijing Bar, grab your wallet and run.
The Oriental Plaza remains an overpriced shopping mall where rich Hong Kong and Beijing businessmen take their mistresses to buy them Western name brands at double the real price.
Starbucks is the only place to get de-caf coffee in Beijing. The Oriental Plaza Starbucks is a terrific place to girl watch at 8:00 AM as all the shop clerks come off the subway and walk through the mall on their way to work.